Late-night meeting set hiring in motion

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/05/2012-- Bret Bielema, the new University of Arkansas head football and athletics director Jeff Long enters the room to start the press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Photo by Michael Woods
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/05/2012-- Bret Bielema, the new University of Arkansas head football and athletics director Jeff Long enters the room to start the press conference Wednesday afternoon.

— Two days after Bret Bielema’s Wisconsin Badgers crushed Nebraska 70-31 to win the Big Ten Championship Game, he was meeting with Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long to discuss the Razorbacks’ vacant head coaching position.

The next day, Bielema agreed to become the Hogs’ coach.

Long’s search was less than an eight-month process after he appointed John L. Smith the interim head coach April 23, but his closing speed was swift.

Bielema agreed to meet with Long in person when both were in New York Cityfor the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame ceremonies early this week.

“I would not have moved before the end of the regular season,” Long said. “And to me, the championship game is the end of the regular season.”

Bielema said he didn’t check his cell phone for messages after getting to his hotel room in Indianapolis at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning following the Big Ten title game. When he checked his phone the next morning, he noted that Jon Fagg, Arkansas’ senior associate athletic director, had called to see if Bielema could meet with Arkansas officials in New York.

“My biggest excitementwas when he agreed to meet,” Long said. “I thought if he agreed to meet, we’d have a chance to show him what the university has to offer and show him what Arkansas has to offer.”

Long, Fagg and Bielema met at a prearranged place late Monday and stayed up after midnight discussing Bielema’s vision for a football program.

“Just had a great conversation, and as you can see, he can get fired up and passionate about talking,” Long said.

Bielema asked to sleep on the decision overnight and to talk to his wife Jen before meeting again Tuesday morning.

Bielema said he notified Wisconsin Athletic DirectorBarry Alvarez of his intent to take the job at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and “it was, I believe, 2:30 when we were in the air and flying to Madison,” he said. “It happened very, very quickly.”

Long, without mentioning names, said he met with one candidate prior to last weekend’s games and three more after the final weekend of the regular season. Long wouldn’t confirm any names, but sources said he met with Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy on Sunday.

“There were varying levels of interest in those four,” Long said, “but I will tell you Coach Bielema was by far my first choice.”

Sports, Pages 23 on 12/06/2012

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